West Philly principal named top school principal in the state

Richard Gordon IV, principal of Robeson High School for Human Services, has received two prestigious awards for educational leadership (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune).

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA —  A West Philadelphia high school principal has received two prestigious awards.

Paul Robeson High School for Human Services principal Richard Gordon IV received the 2020 Distinguished Service to Education Award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

As a state winner, Gordon will be a nominee for the NASSP National Principal of the Year Award. The organization’s virtual awards program will be held July 20.

“Receiving this award is truly an honor, but it’s not just about me. It’s about the hard work of our staff, students, and parents,” Gordon said. “These are the people who believed in me from day one and I couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

One week after he received the NASSP award, Gordon was also named the 2020 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year Award by the Pennsylvania Principals Association.

Gordon said hearing the news of the second award was “bittersweet” as he was dealing with the loss of one of his students to gun violence.

“I was with the family of David Williams all day and later that afternoon I got the call that I won the state principal award,” Gordon said. “It was bittersweet and I cried. You receive a great honor, but a family and our school is dealing with tragedy. It was a challenge for me personally.”

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Gordon became the principal of Robeson in 2013, the same year the former School Reform Commission announced they would reprieve the school from closing. At the time, Robeson was among the School District of Philadelphia’s 30 lowest-performing schools.

In the last seven years, Gordon has developed a model for college and career readiness with his staff, increased student and parent engagement in the school, acquired 30 community partnerships, and achieved an annual 95% student graduation rate.

The state Department of Education named Robeson a “high progress” school in 2017, and removed it from the state’s list of academically “high needs/lowest performing” schools.

Student enrollment has also increased at Robeson. In 2013, Robeson had only 250 students and was receiving nearly 450 applications. The school now has 326 students and receives nearly 1100 applications for just 35 slots.

“We’re not a magnet school, but we get kids from all over the city,” Gordon said. “Our enrollment is truly by word of mouth. We get kids who are highly academic, kids who struggle, and kids who are in the middle and are trying to figure it out.”

School District of Philadelphia superintendent William Hite said in a written statement that Gordon’s “commitment to serving children and families” is the key to his success.

“Principal Gordon’s enthusiasm for creating a positive learning and instructional environment has yielded wonderful results,” Hite said. “We look forward to even greater success for his students and the entire school community.”

Gordon, a 47-year-old native of Camden, New Jersey, has been an educator since 1996.

Before he became a principal, he served as a teacher, special education teacher, truancy liaison, and assistant principal in the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia areas.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Lincoln University, a master’s degree in special education from Coppin State College, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Lehigh University. He is working to earn a doctorate degree from NorthCentral University.

Gordon credited his experience at Lincoln, the nation’s oldest degree-granting Black university, “for laying the foundation for his love of education.”

“The love I have for education, my culture, and the urban experience started at Lincoln University,” Gordon said. “My experience there really inspired me to the idea of giving back.”

Gordon said that while Robeson has accomplished a lot during his tenure as principal “the school still has more to do.”

“I have the best staff, kids and job in the city,” Gordon said. “I truly love going to work every day. We’ve made progress, but we still have more to do. We’re not done yet.”

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared